Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
The Chantry courtyard was filled with bright sunlight and, as Tobias made his way down the great, sweeping steps—walking with a certain degree of discomfort at the side of the Prince of Starkhaven—the paving stones seemed almost to glimmer.
“Your associate,” Sebastian said, peering inquisitively at him. “You said he doesn’t live far from here?”
“No.” Tobias gestured to the turning that led to the swankier end of the Hightown estates… and Danarius’ mansion. “This way.”
Booted feet echoed crisply against the stones, and Tobias caught a number of passers-by glancing at them. A couple of city guards seemed to notice, too, and he wondered how long it would be before the news filtered back to Aveline. Oh, she still watched him, he knew… watched out for him, she said, and he suspected it was on his mother’s request, although Leandra would never have admitted it.
Bloody women, always conspiring….
Of course, it might have had something to do with the fact that, since leaving the chantry, Sebastian was sporting a large, curved bow and an elaborately tooled quiver of arrows at his back. Tobias hadn’t expected that. If he’d thought about it at all, he supposed he’d assumed princes used swords and shields, like they did in children’s stories. Bethany had owned a book like that when she was little, with woodcuts of valiant heroes slaying dragons and… ogres. He blinked, but the memory that rose—so well-worn now, like a polished stone grinding against the inside of his head, instead of a whetted flint—barely made him stumble.
The princeling cleared his throat. “So, I, uh, understand you have come into the ownership of your family’s estate since last we met? Allow me to congratulate you, Serah Hawke. The Amells were always a fine family, a credit to Kirkwall’s noble—”
“Really more my mother’s relatives than mine,” Tobias said curtly, as they turned from the wide expanse of the courtyard into the shadier streets that opened out into the estates’ approach. “My father—”
—was an apostate—
“—was Fereldan,” he said instead, allowing the slightly bent shape of the truth to pull omissions around it like a silken cocoon.
Tobias gritted his teeth. He had no problem with lying, and he was good at it. However, with every passing week, he felt just a little more bitter at denying everything Malcolm had been, every grain of his history and motivations.
It’s hanging around with Anders that does it, I bet.
That was what Varric would have said, he supposed, and he had to choke down a small smile at the thought of the dwarf’s genially dirty grin.
Idealism, Hawke… it’s like the clap. Spread by proximity, and burns like hell.
Just one throwaway line over beer in The Hanged Man and, at the time, it had made him blush a little. Not that Tobias was happy admitting, even as concepts, that the conjunction of Anders and venereal disease had the power to do that to him.
He pushed the thoughts away, and realised that Sebastian was still looking at him, as if gauging an appropriate response.
“He’s… no longer with us, then?” the princeling ventured.
Tobias blinked. That accent really was interesting: all lilts and burrs. It was like every consonant was just waiting for a passing vowel to grab hold of and rough up, maybe even grope a little. He shook his head.
“No. We left when the Blight started, but Father died a few years before.”
“Ah. I’m sorry,” Sebastian offered, as they passed beneath a white colonnade. “Both for the loss of your father, and your homeland. Starkhaven was fortunate to see almost nothing of the Blight… I suppose the whole of the Marches got off lightly, with the exception of—”
“The refugees, yes.” Tobias nodded, squinting in the dappled sunlight. “We have tried not to make too much of a mess.”
“Oh, I-I didn’t mean—”
Tobias glanced up at the tops of the colonnade’s columns. They were decorated with a frieze of intertwining leaves. All very new, very fresh, very modern, he thought. Of course, a lot of the architecture around the estates was like that; either newly built, making ostentatious use of dwarven craftsmen and showy materials, or brand-new designs chiselled over the top of the old Tevinter ones. Better a twining vine than a row of shackled slaves, and all that.
There was another courtyard here: small, shady, and sedate. A tiny fountain stood in the centre of it, less bubbling cheerfully than burping quietly to itself and churning out brackish water from rusted pipes. On three sides of the courtyard, old houses reared up, their great, cracked façades speaking of generations’ worth of threadbare, dishevelled nobility, the painful burdens of both upkeep and decay inscribed across their stonework.
Old families, old houses… years and years and years of it, just stretching out into nothingness. Yuck.
Fenris’ door lay on the other side of the courtyard, the walls of the mansion cloaked with a heavy, obscuring growth of creepers. Tobias nodded towards it.
“You’d, uh, probably best wait here,” he said, shooting a sidelong glance at His Royal Shininess and his incredibly heraldic armour. “My… associate is a rather private man. Let me talk to him before I make introductions, all right?”
The princeling frowned, but nodded. “Very well. And I— I do appreciate this, Hawke. Truly.”
Tobias squeezed out a thin smile, and crossed the courtyard. He hated these buildings, with their hulking frontages rearing up so high they could almost block out the sky. They all seemed to have tiny windows, too; barely little chinks of light in so much grey and white stone, marked with years of decay.
He chewed at the inside of his lip as he stood by Fenris’ door, and—as he tugged on the bell-pull and heard the mechanism within creaking sonorously into life—Tobias considered quite how best to phrase this one.
Fenris! You look bored! Want to come assassinate a noblewoman?
No, maybe not.
Inside, the bell chimed. He wondered what the elf was doing in there. Drinking? Brooding? Both?
So, there’s this dynastic coup going on in Starkhaven. They’re paying well….
That was better. Not great, but better.
Maker’s balls, it’s past noon. He’s going to be drunk and ornery, isn’t he? Oh, this is going to be delightful, I just know it.
It was hard to hear much through the heavy oak, but Tobias thought he caught the sound of the inner door opening, and he stepped back as he waited for Fenris to greet him, thumbs stuck in his belt loops, and his most ingenuous smile plastered to his face.
The door creaked slowly open, revealing a suspicious—and apparently sober—Fenris, peering at him from the mansion’s shadowy interior.
That low, gravel-washed voice drew the word out, somehow managing to inject it with half a dozen different inflections. Why was he here, what did he want, and what was he looking so damn cheerful about, for starters, Tobias guessed. He widened his grin.
“Fenris! You look well.”
That much was true. Without that protective shell of armour—clad in simple breeches and a shirt open enough at the neck to show the winged lines of lyrium brands descending from his throat to his chest—there was something much more vital and alive about Fenris. A kind of alert intensity lingered in those pale green eyes, too, and Tobias wondered if he’d caught the elf in contemplation; perhaps poring over some of Danarius’ old tomes, or planning some great and mysterious revenge. Or, equally possible, devising new strategies with which to whip everyone’s arse on Diamondback night. Tobias already owed him a tally of some eight sovereigns, and was fairly convinced that Fenris was an even more vicious as a card player than he was as a warrior.
One dark eyebrow arched sardonically as the elf wrinkled his nose. “And you smell like a whorehouse.”
Tobias’ genial grin didn’t flicker, although he struggled to quash the sudden rush of thoughts about Jethann. He’d rather hoped the whiff of rose oil had worn off, but maybe the sharp sense of smell was an elven peculiarity, like the lack of body hair, or the eye colour, or the—
—size of that thing…. I wonder if Fenris—no. No, no, no. Don’t even think about it.
Maybe, Tobias reflected hurriedly, it was just a peculiarity restricted to Fenris.
He shrugged. “I could say it’s a new cologne, but you wouldn’t believe me. Anyway, so a man gets bored sometimes. It really doesn’t matter, does it?”
An odd look passed over Fenris’ face. “I merely meant—”
“Look, awkward thing,” Tobias cut in, pressing the unusual advantage of having somehow surprised the elf; he could gloat about that later. “But it’s business. You remember last year, that thing with the Flint Company? The bounty?”
Fenris’ lip curled slightly. “The mercenaries. Yes.”
“Same, uh, patron. Over there, by the fountain—no, don’t look—and he just found out some noblewoman hired the company to do her dirty work. Wants to confront her over betraying his parents, whole messy business… but wants a little back-up, if you understand my meaning? Yes?”
Fenris scowled, that shock of white hair falling forwards as he tilted his head, and those shimmering eyes narrowed.
“C’mon….” Tobias shifted his weight from foot to foot, allowing the movement to imply a little more anxiety than he really felt. “Are you in? You should come and meet him, anyway. You’ll want to get a look, if only for the laughs. I swear,” he added, leaning in conspiratorially, “you can see your face in his armour, it’s that shiny. And white. White. On Andraste’s cheek, I’m not lying.”
Fenris regarded him suspiciously and swayed back just a little. Tobias suddenly felt a little more sensitive about that whole ‘whorehouse’ crack, and stepped nonchalantly back, leaning an elbow on the vine-and-moss-covered balustrade that fringed the porch. He dredged up another small smile, trying to ignore the pricking lances of embarrassment and self-consciousness.
“He’s paying well,” he added helpfully. Well, he assumed the princeling would. He had before, and there was no way Tobias was going to admit he’d effectively been railroaded into this particular commission by the grand cleric.
Fenris’ eyes grew a little narrower.
“Do you intend to bring the abomination with us?”
“No.” The corner of Tobias’ lips jerked into a quick, involuntary smile. “But I’ll tell Anders how much you miss him when he’s not around.”
“Oh, come on. It’ll be a good split. You, me, maybe go pick up Varric if he’s around… that’s a three-way cut on the money, plus whatever you might slip into a pocket, and—”
The elf’s face tautened. “I am not a thief, Hawke.”
“Never said you were,” Tobias countered smoothly. “So? What d’you say? Beats sitting all alone in the dark in there, doesn’t it?”
Fenris sighed laboriously, although the tell-tale curl at the corner of his mouth, no matter how very slight it was, suggested his interest had been piqued.
“Some of us actually enjoy our solitude,” he chided, his face deadpan.
“Yeah, yeah… I’ll tell His Royal Shininess you’re not interested, then, shall I?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Tobias grinned. “Thought not. I’ll wait for you out front.”
The elf nodded, and shut the door.
As Tobias wandered back over to Sebastian, he allowed himself a very brief ponder upon the matter of Fenris changing his clothes, and held the thoughts up against his oh so recent explorations of the male elven form.
Funny, he thought, how different Fenris was to Jethann. All right, so slavery, and whatever it was that Danarius had done to brand the lyrium into his flesh—Anders reckoned a blood ritual, and had been known to comment darkly that it was a kind of magic that left unpleasant marks on people, inside as well as out—probably wasn’t comparable to alienage life. That was reputedly unpleasant, yes, and short, brutal, hard… all those things that he was familiar with hearing in disaffected tavern diatribes. Still, it was strange that, of the two elven men, one should so shroud himself in pride and secrecy, and the other should fly so far from social convention.
Still, you have to wonder how far down the lyrium goes….
He flashed a grin at the princeling, who was looking at him expectantly.
“Your associate will be joining us then?” he asked, voice ineffectively hushed against the stonework.
Tobias nodded. “Mm-hm. Just give him a few minutes. And, uh, just so I’ve mentioned it? He has… tattoos, let’s say.” He gestured loosely in the air, fingers describing the curves and patterns of Fenris’ brands. “In fact, he’s quite striking, generally speaking. Not, er, not like most elves you see in Kirkwall. But—”
“He’s elven? Oh. I mean, I… I didn’t expect that.”
Sebastian seemed suddenly wary, and Tobias suspected he knew why: “striking tattooed elf” usually equated to “unstable reactionary painted up to look like a Dalish and screaming about wresting his birthrights back from the human bastards”.
“Just, uh, try not to stare,” he suggested, giving the princeling an encouraging grin. “All right?”
Sebastian surprised him then. He smiled back; a disarmingly charismatic arrangement of terribly white teeth, stunning blue eyes and—Tobias stifled a disbelieving groan—actual, Maker-sworn dimples.
“I will endeavour not to make a fool of myself,” he promised, in that lusciously lilting brogue.
He was an extremely attractive man, despite the daft armour. Tobias smirked, and allowed his voice to drop to a low, seductive purr.
“Oh, I’m sure of that, my lord. It seems to me a man like you is always… in control.”
It was barely more than playful flirtation, glib and effortless, but it had bugger all effect on the princeling, and Tobias supposed that was typical. He seemed destined to be surrounded by handsome men who were all either oblivious to his attentions or too messed up to respond to them. Or, more likely in Sebastian’s case, were just not inclined to be interested in the first place.
He sighed inwardly. Well, the rumours were that, before his affirmation in the Chantry, His Royal Shininess had been quite the dissipated wencher… and apparently only wenches. Seemed that about summed it up, anyway.
Sebastian had turned his head, and was frowning at the paving stones.
Tobias blinked. That was a look he’d seen elsewhere; that blend of regret and grief, tinged with self-loathing but coloured over hard with anger and—in that brief moment—it confused him.
“Huh. Not as controlled as you might think,” the princeling said bitterly, shaking his head. He glanced at Tobias, those blue eyes worn from velvet smoothness to troubled clouds. “And please, not ‘my lord’. Sebastian. Elthina is right; I laid aside all that I was born to when I was affirmed. As a brother of the Chantry, I… I don’t know. What she says is true—I am betraying my vows by persisting on this path. But, if it was your family that had been murdered, Hawke… everything you knew ripped from beneath your feet… could you stand idle? Could you turn your face from justice?”
Bloody wonderful. He chooses now to have a moral dilemma. Great. If we’re really lucky, he’ll drop to the ground and have a life-changing vision.
“Er….” Tobias cleared his throat, uncomfortably lanced by the transparency in the man’s manner. There was an intensity to him: a burning, passionate zeal that struck seemed both dangerous and, in some odd way, humbling. “No,” he said eventually. “No, I couldn’t. I understand why you need resolution to this, m— Sebastian. Although, you must realise… confronting this Lady Harimann may still not give you answers.”
Sebastian inclined his head, and he appeared genuinely grateful. Tobias supposed—after a year of digging for information, with Elthina nagging in his ear about vows and duties—he was probably glad of speaking to someone who didn’t immediately brand him a selfish fool.
“Thank you. I-I know, but… I must do this. I have prayed over it for a time, and I do believe that—if I can just know why—then I can go on with my life. Maybe I could even learn to forgive.”
“Fu—” Tobias bit his tongue hurriedly. “Um, forgive? That’s… magnanimous.”
The corner of the princeling’s mouth curled, and a sneakingly wicked look flitted across his eyes. “I said maybe, Hawke.”
Tobias was about to formulate a response when, from across the sun-dappled courtyard, the sound of a heavy door opening distracted him and Fenris emerged from the mansion, fully armoured and with his greatsword slung across his back. The light glinted on the wicked metal of his gauntlets—claws for a feral creature—as he squinted at the surrounding houses, as wary and disdainful as a cat.
“That is your—?”
“Don’t stare,” Tobias murmured gently, as the elf’s gaze fell on Sebastian. “He can be a little sensitive about his looks. And… quite a lot of other things, really. But you’ll pick that up. And he certainly wouldn’t dream of killing you until he’s been paid. Right, then,” he added brightly, rubbing his hands together and raising his voice as Fenris loped across the stones towards them. “Quick stop at The Hanged Man, grab Varric, and we’ll get this done, shall we, gentlemen?”
Fenris nodded silent assent, and Tobias turned on his heel, heading for the nearest shortcut to the district’s mouth.
“Varric?” Sebastian echoed, perplexed. “The… the dwarf you mentioned? Wh…?”
“Not far,” Tobias called cheerfully, glancing back over his shoulder. “Oh, and where are my manners? Sorry. Fenris, Sebastian. Sebastian, Fenris.”
He smiled, delighting for a brief moment in the looks of critical suspicion his companions were giving each other, and proceeded to lead the way to The Hanged Man.
Varric, as things turned out, was more than happy to join them, as it meant a legitimate excuse to get out of a meeting with an envoy from the Merchants’ Guild. It was apparently something to do with a coalition of surface dwarves forming a union to improve the lot of traders outside Orzammar. As far as Tobias understood it, “going top-side” had always meant losing one’s caste and position—which were of vital importance in dwarven society—although, with things opening up so much under King Bhelen, those who had always been at the bottom of the dwarven heap were starting to buck the oppressive traditions of their forebears. It had been making substantial political, and economic, waves.
“Ugh,” Varric grumbled as their unusual ensemble cut back up through towards Hightown, heading for the Harimann mansion. “It’s not as if I even care. I’d be happy living my whole life without seeing the inside of the Commons. Bartrand was always the one who talked about going back to Orzammar. Me? Hah. You’re never getting me underground again, not as long as I live.”
“I second that,” Tobias murmured, brief but intrusive visions of the Deep Roads flickering at the edges of his mind. He shivered as he pushed them away. “You hear anything about your beloved brother recently?”
Varric snorted. “No. Trust me, if I do, you’ll be the first to know. Not that I think Bartrand’s stupid enough to show his face in this town again. Still, I’m working on tracking the son-of-a-bitch down.”
“Good.” Tobias glanced at the rag-tag party he was leading, and grinned. “Well, this is nice, isn’t it? Everyone’s got a grievous thirst for revenge to nurse.”
The princeling looked surprised, then faintly affronted. Fenris curled his lip, and Varric just scoffed.
“Well, I can think of better ways to make new friends, but you’re right… it’s good to share hobbies.”
They didn’t talk much as they made their way to the Harimanns’ house. Tobias wasn’t sure if it was his sense of humour or the sense of mild foreboding that put a damper on things but, either way, it was peaceful enough.
The mansion stood in one of Hightown’s quieter corners. Very upmarket. There were even a few trees dotted about, boughs nodding quietly in the warm afternoon breeze, their bark inscribed with the genteel graffiti of upper-class youths’ entwined initials.
Place must be crawling with illicit trysts after dark. Makes a change from street gangs, I suppose.
Sebastian changed as they got to the house, he noticed. He walked taller, his shoulders and his jaw set square, the mild sense of indecision about him evaporating like mist. It wasn’t even anger, Tobias decided, but more a kind of determination; a solemn, intrepid resolve to exact… well, to exact justice.
His thoughts flashed briefly to Anders, though he knew it wouldn’t have been a good idea to try and bring him onboard for this. Too much involvement with the Chantry, and too little notice, and… and Tobias really wished he was there. As they mounted the steps that led up to the mansion’s grey stone façade, all cloaked with thick green ivy, the hairs on his arms rose, and his mouth turned dry. Something felt wrong.
Something felt very wrong indeed.
The princeling couldn’t raise an answer at the door. No servants, no voices within. There was no response at the back, either, so Varric picked the lock and let them in. Tobias felt it as soon as he stepped over the threshold. Something had happened there, and it had left a residue behind it; dark, bitter, and foul.
The cold tendrils of a vile presence touched him and, as Sebastian prowled ahead through the still, silent rooms, voicing his perplexed concern that it should all be so quiet, so deserted, Tobias shuddered.
Varric glanced at him suspiciously. “What?”
“Do you feel that?”
The dwarf shook his head. “Feel what? I mean, this place is creepy, but—”
Tobias frowned. “There’s more here than things that go ‘bump’ in the night and funny-looking paintings. Something’s… off.”
Varric’s brow furrowed, and his gloved hand curled protectively on Bianca’s stock. “What, you mean like… off, as in—”
“Off,” Tobias muttered, glancing at the figure of the princeling, pacing ahead of them through the deserted hallway.
Candles burned in sconces on the walls, through jumping, shuddering slices of light to the dark floorboards and thick rugs. The kitchens they’d come in through had been neat and orderly, as if the last meal of the day had been served and the servants simply hadn’t got up to do breakfast yet, but this… this was weird. All the doors were tightly shut and locked, and there was nothing so obvious as the dim, oppressive wall of silence that shrouded the house.
Silence… except for the whispering. It was there, right on the edge of Tobias’ hearing, right on the edge of existence. Not words, not anything with real meaning, just… something.
“Oh, shit,” Varric said, curling his lip. “You mean ‘off’, like… that?”
Tobias nodded. “I think so. I can feel something, anyway.”
“Great. Just great.”
Despite their having tried to stay quiet, the princeling had obviously heard them, because he looked back over his shoulder, all wide-eyed inquisitiveness.
“Is there a problem, Hawke?”
Tobias glanced at Varric, who shrugged.
“No. No, just—”
Fenris had been prowling a little further along the corridor, investigating the locked doors and stagnant rooms. He stopped, haloed by the candlelight, and glared back at Tobias, his head tilted slightly to the side, not so much like a bird as a snake contemplating striking.
“You suspect dark magic, do you not? I would not be surprised. This whole place reeks of demons.”
The princeling’s eyes widened further—Tobias suspected he’d never seen anyone whose gaze quite so much merited the epithet of “limpid”—and he blanched.
“Demons? No, that’s not possible. It can’t—”
“I think it is,” Tobias countered. “I think it’s a possibility we should be prepared for. In fact—”
“Well, how would you know?” Sebastian demanded, looking between him and Fenris.
The elf glowered, and Tobias sighed deeply.
“I’m an apostate, all right?”
The princeling stared and, though he was clinging to that abundant charm of his and trying to pretend he wasn’t alarmed, Tobias was all too familiar with the look of mingled revulsion and fear that crossed his face. Sebastian opened his mouth to speak, but Tobias cut across him.
“Yes. Well, now you know. And, not that I’m in the business of threatening the people I’m working for, but… just so we’re clear? Breathe a word to the grand cleric, or anyone, anywhere, and I’ll say you knew when you hired me the first time.”
He held the man’s gaze steadily, hoping the way his pulse was thudding wasn’t obvious, and tried to ignore that horrible feeling this place gave him, like something wet and slimy was crawling up the back of his neck. Sebastian opened and shut his mouth a few times, looking a little bit like an incredibly pretty fish, and Tobias took the advantage of his royal silence.
“I also know how to buy a dozen witnesses to support that claim and, moreover, to swear on the Maker’s holy balls that you wanted to find a blood mage to put you back on Starkhaven’s throne. So, rat me out, you’ll go down too. I’m just saying.”
He kept his tone even, low, and reasonable, and was pleasantly surprised by the fact that, after the initial moment of shock, Sebastian seemed to pull himself together and respond in just as calm a manner.
“I assure you, Hawke, that would never have been my intention.”
“Really,” Tobias said dryly. “And here was me thinking the Chantry was all for the containment of mages.”
The princeling’s gaze seemed to harden, a flash of iron in those blue eyes, and a muscle twitched in his jaw.
“Perhaps this is not the time to discuss it.”
It was the most sensible thing Tobias had heard him say since they met. He nodded.
“I couldn’t agree more. Shall we?”
They pressed on, though the peace and the alliance between them both felt tenuous.
He wasn’t expecting the things they found.
Every member of the household seemed to have found their own private insanity. Lady Harimann’s daughter, Flora, was the first they discovered: sprawled across half a dozen empty casks of wine, drinking herself into a stupor in a kind of thirst that knew no slaking. Sebastian seemed truly distraught at seeing her in that state, so quick to say she was normally a temperate, demure girl. She got violent when he tried to take her cup from her, lashed out with a well-aimed kick in the kneecap, and called him a whoreson bastard. Tobias wasn’t even sure she knew who the princeling was.
She passed out not long after, and they carried her to the pantry, where they set her on her side among the cheese wheels and jugs of very off milk—suggesting, whatever had happened here, it must have been going on for a while—and locked the door.
Tobias wrinkled his nose, trying to get the smell of piss-soaked velvet and vomit out of his throat, and nodded at Sebastian’s litany of disbelief.
“She wasn’t in her right mind, that’s all. Whatever she was seeing, feeling… it wasn’t real. Demons do that. They trick people; give you what you think you want, and drown you in it. We’ll probably see worse before this is over.”
The princeling stared at him with a mix of apprehension and vehement, angry indignation, then stepped back and jerked his head towards the stairs that led to the next floor.
“Then lead on, Hawke. You know what you’re dealing with better than I.”
Tobias wished he had as much confidence in himself.
All the same, it could have been worse. The other surviving Harimanns were all ensnared in their own fantasies of avarice, one consumed by a madness of lust, the other a passion for gold. Neither was particularly edifying, but both were rapidly cured by a swift knock on the head and being safely bound and locked in closets, to be dealt with later.
Sebastian stared, aghast, as Tobias kicked the door shut on Lady Harimann’s half-naked son, who was still babbling about gold and jewels and the glory of precious, shiny wealth.
“That’s it?” The princeling seemed almost disappointed. “You’re just going to leave them there? I thought—”
“They’ll be fine. For now. Anyway, they’re nothing but playthings for whatever’s doing this.”
Tobias glanced along the length of the chamber they stood in, noting dryly the fine walnut dining table at its far end.
Sorry, Mother. Doesn’t look like that’s coming with us.
Most of the household’s gilt and plate was heaped up in the middle of the floor, and Tobias noticed Varric picking up a small, embossed golden charger to examine. He looked away, so he legitimately didn’t see it slide into the dwarf’s pocket.
“Does the house have an undercroft?” Tobias turned his attention to Fenris. “Danarius’ mansion does, right? Most of the old places around here have cellars, old passageways…. If we’re going to find this Lady Harimann, I’ll bet that’s where. Somewhere dark and quiet, where no one would disturb anything.”
Sebastian stared blankly at him, and he sighed.
“We haven’t found her anywhere in this mess, right? And there’s no body. The servants aren’t in evidence, meaning there’s no one left to clean up, so…? Stands to reason it’s her that’s responsible for this.” Tobias sighed again, growing impatient at the princeling’s confusion. “Look, demons don’t just pop out of nowhere. They have to be summoned… allowed to take control. All this?” He flung out an arm, gesturing to the chaos that had befouled the house. “A mage can’t just do this by not concentrating for five minutes!”
The man didn’t understand. Tobias knew that, and he knew it was pointless to lose his temper, despite how much what they were seeing appalled him. It might not have been blood magic, but it was the next best thing. The woman’s children—lost in those demon-twined fantasies, prisoners in their own heads—weren’t mages. They didn’t feel like mages, didn’t feel possessed. They were food, toys… things to keep a larger hunger occupied, and it was that he could feel, the dark presence prowling somewhere beneath the mansion’s shell of opulence.
He shuddered, half-tempted to say they should pull back and bring in… well, what? An advanced guard of templars to cleanse the place? No. The stink of demonkin all over everything meant that Lady Harimann herself must be an apostate—and wasn’t that sweetly ironic: all this money, and she still turned her craft to evil—and, though Tobias had no qualm about turning someone like that in, there was still a principle involved… and a hearty dose of practicality.
They get her, they’ll find me. Not worth it.
Whatever happened, they were on their own, unless he sent someone to fetch Anders, but that would mean running all the way to Darktown and back, and there was no guarantee he’d either come at all, or arrive in time. In any case, Tobias wasn’t about to risk being a man down while he waited to find out.
He was right about the cellars.
It should, he supposed, have given him a little thrill of victory. Instead, every sense he possessed was full up with revulsion and horror, like his own skin was trying to peel itself off, just to get away from all the dark, prickling things that screamed demon.
They found Lady Harimann grovelling in front of a shrine, of sorts. She’d clearly thought she’d known what she was doing, that building a prison for the thing she summoned—all decked out with runes and warding glyphs and bright, shiny objects, at odds with the dark, damp, gloominess and the smell of dank wood and earth—would keep it happy, keep it contained.
She’d been a bloody fool.
It wasn’t Tobias’ first desire demon. Kirkwall’s high proportion of demonic possessions and mages dabbling in forbidden knowledge—or possibly his own propensity to find himself in the middle of those darker corners of the city—had seen to that. All the same, the creature still disgusted him.
She, inasmuch as they had genders, took the form of a beautiful woman; a body of voluptuous curves and strong, sensuous lines, but made into something other, something impossible, by the artistic license the demon had granted itself. She was naked, but for some elaborate golden jewellery, and that seemed real enough. It chimed as she moved—on feet that never quite touched the ground—and it seemed to please her to make her own music.
The skin wasn’t human. The whole body was cast in tones of purple and indigo: fire-chased perfection, glimmering with flames and veins of silver. Horns rose from her head in great, curving sweeps, their ridges thick and dark, and the blazing eyes that she turned on him were pupilless, like pools of light.
Perfectly moulded lips moved at a speed fractionally slower than the words. At first, Tobias wasn’t sure whether everyone was hearing the same thing but, as the demon tried to beguile them, the way it had Lady Harimann—no longer a noblewoman bent on political scheming and hungry for gain, but a wracked shell shackled to this creature’s whim, thirsting with incurable greed for the sake of greed itself—he realised what was happening.
Oh, the demon spoke all right, in those beautiful, mellifluous tones. It gave them honeyed words that explained everything… words that caressed the desire in all of them, and nudged at Sebastian’s lust for vengeance; even prompted the hunger he’d once had for the throne.
But then there was the other voice. Tobias was fairly sure no one else could hear it. There wasn’t even much of it in the first place, just the faint buzz of a murmur. It was the kind of voice that sometimes leached into his sleep… the kind of voice his father had always trained him to block out, because you couldn’t even let them speak, not if you wanted to stay safe.
It wheedled, though, and it wasn’t like just hearing words he could simply ignore. It pulled at him, gave him feelings and sensations that chased through his flesh—the whispers of what it would be to have what he wanted.
I can give you that. All these things… everything you desire….
He tried to wrench himself away from that nagging yearning, and from the sneaking promises of fulfilment. His mother’s face, wreathed in delighted smiles because she was truly, genuinely happy, and proud of him. Clothes that were warm and comfortable, and didn’t have patches or the memories of bloodstains on them. A house that wasn’t a hovel, but wasn’t a cold expanse of stone, either… and—
—a warm fire, roaring in a wide grate, against the flickering light of which—
Get the fuck out of my head!
—pale arms moved to embrace his naked body, and kisses brushed his skin like vine leaves. Soft laughter rippled over him, bringing with it a sweet, ineffable sense of peace, and the faintest whiff of boiled elfroot, and Tobias supposed he should have given some signal before he struck.
It would have been sensible. Instead, he just surged forwards, full of anger and spite and outrage, and power burst from his palms in a great wave that he barely controlled. Light and ice split the air, the sheer volume of energy leaving him sick and dizzy in its wake, and with no time to recover.
Fenris reacted first, springing into battle with that easy, terrible violence of his, his blade ending Lady Harimann’s attempt at retaliation before she’d managed to choke out more than a limp fireball.
It left the rest of them to tackle the demon, Tobias pinning it with ice, force, and sheer bloody-minded determination, while Sebastian and Varric rained arrows onto the creature. It was flesh enough for them to do some damage, at least and, once the Harimann woman was dead, Fenris flung himself at the demon in a whirl of rage and lyrium.
It screamed as it crumpled, finally, to the cellar’s damp floor, but Tobias wasn’t sure whether it was more in pain or frustration. He felt it when it happened, though, like a blade right through his head.
The whole fight left him shaky and wet with sweat, and silence fell over the group as they stood, looking down at the bloodied bodies before them.
Tobias glanced at the princeling, expecting him to run off and throw up in a corner, but he was oddly calm. Tight-lipped and hard-eyed, Sebastian lowered his bow and went to Lady Harimann’s body. He knelt and, one hand extended and cupped above her lolling head, he began to pray.
Tobias stared, then shot a sidelong look at Varric, who returned it with equally awkward suspicion. Fenris had bowed his head, dark brows drawn into a solemn scowl a little different from his usual frown, so Tobias just held his breath and waited for the quiet litany of pleas for forgiveness and peace to pass. It was difficult, however; he really wasn’t sure where to look.
As His Royal Shininess straightened up, Varric cleared his throat.
“We, uh… we probably ought to go and let the others out. Make sure that’s everything.”
Sebastian nodded soberly. “I… I didn’t think it would be like this. I never wanted—”
Tobias turned smartly and started to make for the steps leading back up from the cellar, unwilling to meet that distraught, fractured gaze.
“Nobody ever does,” he said, a trifle brusquely. “Leave her there. It’ll be a shock enough for her children. They can come get her when they’re ready.”
He felt the waves of Sebastian’s cold disapproval slap against the back of his neck, but didn’t turn. None of the others spoke, and Tobias’ feet thudded dully against the creaking wooden treads.